Copyright schmopyright

In a move that will definitely help to make TV-watching more viewer-friendly for people who hate silly or irrelevant ads, like me, the U.S Supreme Court has declined to hear a case on digital video recorder (DVR) technology put forth by network programmers like CNN and TBS against Cablevision, the New York-area cable operator. Cablevision wanted to offer a DVR system whereby viewers could use DVR technology from a server provided by them instead of a separate set-top box. The network programmers submitted that this would mean the cable company would then be making unauthorised use of copyrighted programmes, because people could (gasp!) fast forward ads placed in copyrighted programmes that they run. 

A lower court actually ruled in favour of the CNN/TBS lot (I’m sure that judge doesn’t watch any TV), but the U.S Supreme Court reversed that decision, leading Cablevision to say that the decision may mean that DVRs could become more accessible and they’d consider, for example, allowing advertisers to insert ads into recorded content. 

To me that completely defeats the purpose of the whole case. If I’m getting a DVR to avoid seeing ads, why would I buy/get access to it from Cablevision if they’re going to take me back to square one just to make some money? I’d be getting shifted wouldn’t I?

Whether or not Cablevision is able to put their awful plan into action, the truth is that crap ads are crap ads. By taking up the cause of advertisers and not seeing that people are likely to be ready to pay to be able to get rid of ads, they are being blind to the reality. Unless some sort of eye-sensor technology is invented that can scan the viewer’s eye and automatically serve up relevant ads, people will hate most ads, period. Or alternatively if all ads cease to be ads and become less commerce and more content. TV ads, other than infomercials, are still very much based on the principle of pure commerce. Till that changes, I’d rather pay NOT to see them if I can afford it. 


Thoughts on an advertising model for Ushahidi-mBanking

When I first heard of it a few months ago, I knew instinctively that Ushahidi had the potential to create long-lasting change in the developing world. Having worked in a few underprivileged communities in India as soon as I finished university, I know how widespread the use of mobile phones is. The internet, by contrast, is still largely accessed largely via internet cafes by most of the middle and lower-middle class even today, and that too only where absolutely required. To the poor, the internet has hardly any relevance in terms of daily usage. Initiatives like ITC’s eChoupal, which aims to train farmers to use the internet to improve their livelihoods by giving them access to information such as weather and market prices, scientific farm practices and risk management are excellent but largely a rural phenomenon and restricted to areas where ITC (a company that has businesses ranging from hotels and apparel to food and IT) operates. 

The mobile phone, on the other hand, is an instrument that many poor households own. 

So when I read a blog post by Patrick Philippe Meier, a research fellow at Harvard and a doctoral candidate at Tufts University, about the potential use of Ushahidi for mobile banking (or mBanking), I immediately wanted to know more. Meier says that mBanking is used by a vast majority of the poor (from an older post of his: “of the 140 million poor people employed who receive social payments (aka G2P), less than 1/4th receive their payments via bank accounts”), but there is the danger of customer complaints being ignored or inordinately delayed in being dealt with, and of agents being untrustworthy. His solution is to use services like mPesa and Zap, which allow users to transfer money via mobile phones, to text in customer complaints with a code provided by the services. The parent mobile networks (in this case Safaricom and Zain in Kenya) can then have access to reports of agent efficiency, and complaints can be mapped as well. The whole project could be made sustainable via advertising space sold on the Ushahidi-mBanking site as well as broadcast SMS ads. 

I think of it as a mobile banking system that could use advertising in the Blyk model for developing countries. With Blyk, brands pay the company to get their messages out to their target audience (the youth), and with Ushahidi-mBanking, brands can pay the networks (Safaricom, Zain or anything else) to get their messages out to lower-income people. I imagine this kind of advertising could be applicable to insurance companies (for example, ICICI Lombard’s Mediclaim and GPA policy for the urban poor in India), the government (public service announcements), and banks like the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. Of course, companies that produce FMCG’s can advertise too, like Unilever or P&G.

A look at the changing media landscape..

There has been a lot of noise recently about advertising needing to re-invent itself to stay afloat in today’s times. Advertising nowadays has to work much harder for my attention, as it probably does with a lot of people, just because there is so much of it. I subscribe to the logic that necessity is the mother of invention – and from that point of view, the financial crisis seems to be bringing out the entrepreneurial side in some (such as Hank Leber and Agency Nil, about which I wrote recently for PSFK).

Not completely related to the recession but still interesting are the advertising methods employed by a few brands, such as the US TV channel Showtime, who are using Amazon’s Kindle as an altogether different way of advertising by making the pilot script of their to-be-premiered series ‘Nurse Jackie’ available for free download for a limited period. That’s a first for that medium. And a few days ago I read in Campaign the news of an Israeli advertising agency that used last week’s Champions League final to superimpose a medical product ad at a relevant time for the brand during the match. Whenever a player fell down and got injured or otherwise experienced pain, the ad for Optalgin would flash across the screen. That kind of manual synchronising of ad placements (the agency worked with Israel’s Channel 2 to capture what they thought were the ‘most effective shots of fallen players’, apparently, as insensitive as that sounds!) is definitely not very common as far as I am aware. Here’s a clip:
I’d probably be irritated if ads flashed across the screen during a television serial that I was watching (Jimmy Choo ads during Sex And The City, anyone?), so this kind of ad placement needs to be meticulously planned and researched – repetition of a potentially irritating ad can be a death knell for a brand, and I’m sure that while it may have been accepted in Israel, something like that will not go down too well with British football fans AT ALL!! Priyanka, that’s you!

Younger, faster…better

Today I heard about digital agency Street Attack’s new ‘product’, a revolving retail storefront called 303 Grand in Brooklyn, New York. A while ago, Electric Artists (also a New York-based agency) was behind Meet at the Apartment, a dedicated space in Soho, New York for creative and business executives to ‘re-invent their business’, as they put it. The Brooklyn Brothers created Fat Pig Chocolate last year, an example of creative packaging and brand marketing along the same lines.

I’m beginning to wonder if it is some sort of natural progression for creative agencies to move towards coming up with new products of their own, as opposed to merely coming up with strategies for products belonging to other brands. Personally I like all three cases I just cited, and believe that the energy and passion required to come up with a completely new concept that you will then own and bring to life are core qualities exhibited by entrepreneurs. Much as I like some of Fallon’s or Wieden + Kennedy’s campaign work for Cadbury’s or Nike, I somehow don’t see them taking this sort of less-trodden path. 

I traced the age of Street Attack, Electric Artists and the Brooklyn Brothers out of curiosity, to test a thesis that it is the new-age agencies that somehow have a more natural appetite for risk. Street Attack was founded in 2001, Electric Artists in 1997 (thanks Marc) and the Brooklyn Brothers in 2002. Compare this to W+K which is 25 years old.

There must be some good products created by the traditional agencies over the years, but none I can remember offhand (again, pointers welcome).  If trends are anything to go by, DDB has created Radar DDB and Ogilvy has carved up Ogilvy Digital Innovation Labs for a reason. I just hope that they are not bound to their mother ships, because otherwise they’re just another department in a huge old engine, and there’s no point in that. I’m sure George Parker will agree 🙂

Moving ahead

I agree that news channels, newspapers and their websites have a responsibility to tell the world what is happening. So if Yahoo! is cutting jobs by 10%, or WPP orders a hiring freeze, as well as the fact that a number of banks have either gone bust or been bailed out by the government, we will come to know whether we like it or not – or at least if we have an interest in current affairs. But whose responsibility is it to tell the public that they do not need to panic? That tomorrow will be a better day? I’m not making light of the situation – everything is not hunky-dory and we know it. But if that’s all we believe and continue to believe, will the situation ever change? If people believe that this economic depression will not let anything thrive till 2010, which is when the prediction is for markets to revive, how will new investors be motivated to invest, and new ideas have the strength to bloom and survive?

It’s not the same world today as it was back then, I know (disclaimer), but I was thinking about the situation in 1929. That was also a global crisis, exacerbated in the US but with an effect all around the world. 
I was watching a documentary by Adam Curtis a couple of weeks ago recommended by Mark, called The Century of the Self, where this exact incident is discussed. It is essentially about the dichotomy between democracy and industry based primarily on the work of Sigmund Freud, much of which can be read in his book Civilization and its Discontents, and his nephew Edward Bernays, who is one of the people credited with inventing the discipline of public relations. 
Hitler, for example, said that democracy was inefficient because it allowed human desire to run unchecked and creates chaos. When the markets crashed in 1929, Roosevelt said, with a slight echo (which is scary, but read the whole point) that laissez-faire markets could not be run by industries and needed government help, but he also said that industries are rational and that they can take part in government. 
Businesses knew that the economic situation had to change, and PR formed the basis for their campaign to revive the economy – it was called the ‘engineering of consent’, based on Bernays’ eponymous book, and however ethically wrong some people may claim it to be, the fact is that the underlying consumer desire in all of us can’t lie dormant forever. 
Right now, given the condition of the economy, there is no real awareness of the importance of advertising and PR, but the truth is that people will still want things, and that act of consumption is one of the key things that will keep this economy running. I am not talking about the deeper stock markets mess, that is not within the remit of this post and indeed not within my expertise, but yesterday as I watched the chairman on Topshop on the TV say the exact same thing about consumerism, I realised that it is a very salient point – one that deserves some recognition. Not many people are going to come out with it because of the aforementioned ethics issue, but either we all refrain from consumption till 2010, or we make small moves towards changing the world we live in. NOW. There. I said it. 

Value added.

I was walking through Paddington station today and was pleasantly surprised by a booth that Lurpak had put up. They were also handing out goodie bags to passers-by, that had some baby potatoes, garlic and a small wrapped pat of Lurpak butter, with some recipes to use the three together. Russell recently spoke about urban spam and how most brands just try to thrust themselves into our face without adding much value to our lives. When I walked past the Lurpak booth, I didn’t just get some potatoes and butter. Lurpak brought a smile to my face as well – and yes, the volunteer staff did have smiles on their faces. I think any kind of marketing that does that is successful. Period. 

That I took the time to enter the competition they had in conjunction with this promo is to their advantage. 

The Ford Fiesta is Now

A couple of days ago, I received an email from Sandrine over at We Are Social. In it, she mentioned that she was part of the team covering social media strategy for Ford. She then detailed the various aspects of the new campaign that’s being set in motion for the Ford Fiesta. I’m going to tell you about it in a bit, but first I want to clarify that I’m only doing that because I truly do find it interesting – it’s a good example of integrated marketing, which is something I’ve been going on about for a while. Second, I want to give a shout out to Sandrine for getting her outreach process right – she mentioned my name (not just a hi or hello), so I’m being treated as a person and not just the recipient of a mass email, and she’s clearly been following my blog, however briefly, because the Ford Fiesta execution is right along the lines of the things I think and write about. In case anyone is interested, I recommend reading Chris Brogan’s post on how to pitch to bloggers. I’m nowhere as well-known as Chris, but it’s important for brands to know that the web is a great leveller – what I say will be picked up even if it is to a smaller extent than (really cool) people like Chris. 

OK, so on to the campaign. Based on the central theme of ‘This is Now’, Ford has set up collaborative art project. The project has four stages: the first involves a series of work commissioned by animation artist Noah Harris. Some of these broke in an ad released yesterday, which was directed by Harris himself.
The second included work submitted by art students across Europe – select ones will feature in the press and outdoor campaign. The third brings in the public, who can submit pictures capturing their own sense of ‘Now’ on the This is Now Flickr group. And finally, launching in October will be a Fiesta site that will display all the work from the previous stages, and let visitors create their own mash-ups. I’ll keep an eye out for that.
The This is Now blog ties together the entire campaign and will cover it as it progresses.
If you look at the ad, the Flickr images which make up the press and outdoor bits, and the blog, you’ll see a clear picture emerging. In fact, ‘This is Now’ starts to make sense as a concept, and the Ford Fiesta as a product seems to mirror the thought beautifully. This campaign seems well thought-out and executed, not a case of some fantastic imagery being produced in the name of marketing – which is a trap a lot of brands fall into nowadays, I feel.
One of my relatives was talking about buying the Fiesta soon. Now I can totally tell him to go for it. 

Welcome to the new Windows world…or not

The first Microsoft teaser ad with Gates and Seinfeld didn’t leave me shouting ‘Wow!’. The second one was a bit better, if longer and slightly protracted. What you need to know is that there are going to be many, many more – but not with Seinfeld. For now, he’s going to be kept on the back-burner and apparently we’re going to see the likes of Eva Longoria, Deepak Chopra and Pharrell Williams advocating Microsoft instead. All of these people are just a small part of a much larger campaign that Microsoft has set in motion to buffer Apple and their ‘I’m a PC‘ ads that poke fun at the software giant. As I wrote those words – software giant – I realised that when I think software, I still think Microsoft and Windows. Apple only really comes to mind when I think of fancy gadgets. (Google would be a different monolith altogether). And Microsoft has clearly taken the stance that they want to go head-to-head with Apple, not Google, through this campaign, ‘without taking them through the mud’

Anyway, ‘life without walls‘, the theme of the campaign, is soon going to be taken to the next level by allowing users to submit photos depicting the idea that they too are PCs (the new Microsoft-defined PC’s though) on, some of which will be chosen to be displayed on electronic banners on Times Square, and others on Microsoft web banners. 
And that’s only the beginning of their new marketing journey. Read more here. 
Clearly, this is a strategy that is so tightly tailored to ending, or continuing rather, the ‘PC-not PC’ war, that I can’t help but wonder if in all that planning, they’ve forgotten that Apple’s not really their only competitor. They have to go up against the bad name they created for themselves – that’s the bigger demon. Whether the increased number of web mentions of their campaign will get them the larger consumer base they’re looking for (or should be looking for) is questionable. For me, all this is just entertainment. At the end of the day, if the product isn’t friendly, I’m not going to use it, no matter what Seinfeld or Longoria say. And that’s the hard truth, $300 million campaign or not. Perhaps it would have been a more prudent strategy to come up with something creative that told me why Microsoft has now changed for the better, not why the phrase ‘I’m a PC’ is yours and not Apple’s. Apple may be fancier, but does that make their products better? If it does, you’ve got a problem, Seattle. 

No dearth of creative ideas

This is another idea I think is totally brilliant. To introduce Oasis’ new album Dig Out Your Soul, BBH New York came up with the idea of getting buskers in Manhattan to give the songs’ debut performances, instead of releasing them in stores or performing them themselves. Similar to Radiohead’s stunt of releasing In Rainbows purely online (the Creative Director at BBH New York admitted that that was an inspiration), the group had a private rehearsal with street musicians before they performed three songs from the album at key New York City locations like Grand Central Station, Times Square, Penn Station and Astor Place last Friday. The album releases only on October 7th. More here and here. Also, take a look at the happenings behind the scenes of the Friday event:

Diversity adds to a brand

When I lived in New York, Kenneth Cole stores always got a second look from me. Their store windows were usually fronted by short pithy sentences, that – much like another Indian campaign I’m a big fan of, the one for Amul Butter – spoke about their products while drawing from current affairs. Their website, for example, has a video that draws on the American elections this year. Anyway, Kenneth Cole has drawn some positive press of late for their latest video/ad that is part of their ‘We all walk in different shoes‘ campaign. They’ve used a Punjabi Sikh model, which is EXTREMELY rare in the fashion world. To be honest, off the top of my head, I can’t think of any other Western brand that has someone of a different ethnic background as the centerpiece for their campaign (Benetton perhaps, but they focus on a group rather than an individual). I saw an image of a Kenneth Cole store window that features the guy recently, on a friend’s Facebook page. He’s called Sonny Caberwal. Take a look at him (and the pretty deep message he conveys) in this video by the brand: